The Importance of Waldorf Handwork in Early Childhood
In the Waldorf curriculum, handwork class brings balance between intellectual and movement activities, allowing students to experience the struggle, joy, and care required in the creative process. The rhythmic repetition of knitting and crocheting strengthens a child’s concentration and hand-eye coordination. Handwork can also help enhance math skills through counting rows and stitches, measuring out patterns, and creating three-dimensional items. Children learn to correct their mistakes, value hard work and develop patience.
We waste nothing, not even the end of a thread (we save those to use later on for stuffing). All materials and tools are treated with care and respect. This helps the children to foster feelings of reverence and appreciation for the gifts of our earth, plants, and animals. The children also develop a relationship to each color, through working for extended periods with one and then another: a love and understanding of the color’s qualities can speak to them on a very deep “soul” level. Children also learn how to “play” with all the colors and see forms emerge from contrasts + tones/shades. The joy of accomplishment, as the children complete increasingly difficult tasks in small steps, creates the self-confidence necessary to tackle much larger tasks in their future academic and professional lives.
What is Waldorf Handwork?
Handwork is a fundamental part of the Waldorf curriculum and the journey begins in Kindergarten. It’s so good for children to learn how to make beautiful and useful things with their hands. For young children the term “handwork” can encompass a range of activities, think practical, artistic, or play based activities done mainly through the use of the hands including:
- kneading bread
- building with blocks
- washing dishes
- playing in sand or mud
- modeling with beeswax
- watercolor painting
- wiping down tables
- seasonal crafts (making lanterns, dipping candles, paper butterflies etc)
“Soft handwork” is the handwork done with fibers, including:
- learning to roll balls of wool
- pom-pom making
- finger knitting
- carding wool
- simple hand sewing
- wet felting
In early childhood, educators do not “teach” handwork directly, but instead provide the materials and space for this to happen through imitation. Teachers sit down with their craft near the children playing and those who are interested often ask to help or join in.
In this way, handwork for the young child is often an invitation rather than a requirement. Children take lots of time with their projects and often repeat the same projects again and again (for example, pom pom making). Young children love and crave repetition.
The Benefits of Waldorf Handwork in Early Childhood
There are so many benefits to Waldorf handwork!
From a practical point-of-view handwork is a daily part of a Waldorf early childhood because it:
- Promotes capacities for thinking, measuring and visual perception
- Helps to develops fine motor skill
- Builds the capacity to solve problems- noticing mistakes and keeping count of their stitches
- Build the capacity to concentrate and focus
- Teaches children to work with color- choosing complimenting tones and shades
- Develops patience, perseverance and delayed gratification
- Awakens a child’s unique artistry through the creation process, choosing textures and colors
- Helps to develop a sense of gratitude for the earth’s gifts of wool, plant dyes, wood and cotton
- Familiarizes children with the innovative nature of human tools (needles, weaving frames)
There are also more subtle, psychosocial emotional benefits of handwork.
Handwork is a daily part of a Waldorf early childhood because it:
- Help children to develop a sense of reverence and wonder
- Eases the gradual “waking up” transition between early childhood (birth – 7) and the grade school years
- Helps to develop self-regulation- managing feelings of frustration, learning to ask for help, waiting for help and develops the patience to try again
- Fosters a sense of enjoyment in the creation process and satisfaction with having made something useful and beautiful.
- Builds a child’s ‘sense of life’ through rhythmic activities such as knitting, weaving & crocheting
- Helps to build confidence and an experiential correlation between practice, hard work and accomplishment
- Promotes equilibrium in the ambitious individual by fostering the development of their three-fold essence encompassing intellect, emotions, and volition.
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